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OVERVIEW | Cost reduction of new Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings: which projects are in the pipeline?

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ZERO-PLUS settlement: Peyia Village, Paphos, Cyprus (UDS architects)

by Heike Erhorn-Kluttig (Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics)


The deadline for new buildings to fulfil the Nearly Zero-Energy Building (NZEB) level as defined by the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is approaching.  New public buildings shall be NZEBs after 31 December 2018; the same will apply to all new buildings across the EU by 31 December 2020. Pilot and demonstration projects for the NZEB level are underway or completed. Many of them have resulted in additional investment costs when compared to new buildings built according to the current national requirements. For instance the Concerted Action EPBD, a forum of the EU Member States and Norway, has gathered a catalogue of 32 pilot projects and made a cross analysis of technologies applied, investment costs spent and experiences gained. The average additional investment costs of 12 of the selected buildings, with available cost data, was 11% of the total costs or 208 €/m2 net floor area, when compared to conventional buildings [1]. This is for many building owners a significant cost gap. Policy makers, researchers and designers are looking for ways to reduce the cost difference of NZEBs at national, but also European level. This overview article presents completed, ongoing and newly launched EU-funded Horizon 2020 projects that investigate cost-efficient NZEB technologies and strategies.


ZERO-Plus: Achieving near Zero and Positive Energy Settlements in Europe using Advanced Energy Technology


The ZERO-Plus project develops a collaborative approach to the design and construction of settlements, involving technology providers, energy efficiency and renewable energy experts and developers who work together from the earliest stage of project conception. The goal of the project is to provide the market with an innovative yet readily implementable system for net zero energy settlements that will significantly reduce their costs. The benefits of the analysis at the settlement level arise from looking at the larger scale compared to single buildings, and at a system of buildings with their interactions. The project has recently finished the design phase and is now entering the construction phase. The project, which is led by the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, is funded under the Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency call EE-02-2015 “Building design for new highly energy performing buildings” and runs from October 2015 to September 2019. There are already several deliverables publicly available including a summary of current state of the art on near zero energy settlements in Europe, a report on combined energy and environmental performance of the proposed energy production and management technologies, a monitoring framework for performance assessment during operation and various open access publications.




 ZERO-PLUS settlement: Voreppe, France (Sandrine Charnallet)



ZERO-PLUS settlement: Granarolo dell'Emilia, Italy 


ZERO-PLUS settlement: Derwenthorpe Community, York, UK (Studio Partington​)



InDeWaG: Industrial Development of Water Flow Glazing


InDeWaG is a project funded also under the call “Building design for new highly energy performing buildings” and managed by the University of Bayreuth. InDeWaG focuses on the technology of fluid flow glazing facades for high-rise office buildings. These facades are capable of collecting or repelling solar energy with the help of a liquid passing through the panels. The energy consumption of the HVAC systems can be reduced, because the solar heat being absorbed into the building mass is limited. The project has worked on several building physics characteristics such as the spectral problem and the solar heat gain coefficient for water flow glazing and compiled corresponding publications. A demonstration pavilion with the innovative façade system shall be set-up in Bulgaria. The project runs from August 2015 to January 2019.


CHESS-SETUP: Combined Heat SyStem by using Solar Energy and heaT pUmPs


The CHESS-SETUP project works on the design and implementation of an energy efficient system to supply heating and hot water in buildings mainly from renewable sources in combination with seasonal thermal storage. The energy concept is based on two principles: the collection of solar energy (mainly in the summer) into a water tank for further usage when required, and the operation of heat pumps under very favourable thermal conditions. The combined system will be applied in one pilot project in the UK and two pilot projects in Spain. CHESS-SETUP is another project of the 2015 call “Buildings design for new highly energy performing buildings”, managed by BCNecologia and running from June 2016 to May 2019. Project results include a simulation software for the preliminary system sizing, and several reports on storage material and systems, storage tank construction, main laws and regulations, reference cases, system configuration, monitoring systems, etc.



CHESS-SETUP project: Corby's dwellings, Corby, UK


CHESS-SETUP project: Ecoedifici-Lavola headquarters, Manlleu, Spain


CHESS-SETUP project: Sport Centre-Sant Cugat del Vallès, Spain


CoNZEBs: Solution sets for the Cost reduction of new Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings


The CoNZEBs project is one of four contracted projects within the call H2020-EE-2016 CSA under the topic “Cost reduction of new Nearly Zero-Energy buildings”. CoNZEBs identifies and assesses technology solution sets that lead to significant cost reductions of new NZEBs, with the focus on multi-family houses. The consortium consists of research organisations, SMEs, planners and housing organisations in four EU Member States. The close cooperation with housing organisations allows for an intensive interaction with stakeholders and tenants. Additionally to technical solutions, the current planning and construction processes are analysed and possible cost reductions are pointed out. All solution sets are assessed concerning cost savings, energy performance, applicability in multi-family houses and embodied energy. A guide on co-benefits for users of NZEBs promotes living in these buildings. CoNZEBs is led by Fraunhofer IBP and runs from June 2017 until November 2019.


CRAVEzero: Cost Reduction and market Acceleration for Viable nearly zero-Energy buildings


CRAVEzero is focusing on proven and new approaches to cost reduction of Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings in all stages of the life cycle. The main goal is to identify and eliminate the extra-costs for NZEBs related to processes, technologies, building operation and to promote innovative business models taking into account the cost-effectiveness for all the stakeholders. Main project pillars are: the CRAVEzero pinboard as a structured framework to build an effective low life-cycle cost NZEB business model; reliable life-cycle cost databases with cost reduction potentials; and methodologies, robust solutions and business models for low life cycle cost NZEBs. The project is funded by the EC within H2020-EE-2016, is coordinated by AEE INTEC and runs from September 2017 to August 2020. 


A-ZEB: Affordable zero energy buildings


The AZEB project has three objectives: a) to develop a general methodology for reducing the costs of designing and constructing new NZEBs together with their overall lifecycle cost, b) to disseminate the gained knowledge and experience in the form of market-ready solutions in order to inspire stakeholders to take up new NZEBs by using training material and modern communication and c) to facilitate frontrunners and innovators that help to transform the building sector towards a sustainable industry. A supporting decision-making tool and information material on best-practice solutions will be provided to construction experts in order to support them in their effort to reduce the costs of their building projects. Informational material will be produced for the building users which covers information on use, monitoring and maintenance. The goal of the information is to improve the end-user experience. Guidelines on comfort questionnaires for the end-users will complete the material. AZEB is part of the H2020-EE-2016 CSA call, led by DNA in de Bow Vereniging and runs from May 2017 to October 2019.


NERO: Cost reduction of new Nearly Zero-Energy Wooden buildings in the Northern Climatic Conditions


NERO is a new project within the Call H2020-EE-2016-CSA. The project develops and demonstrates a nearly zero-energy wood buildings design process and procurement models with reduced cost for large-scale use in northern climatic conditions. The cost reduction due to the developed processes and models is tested in demonstration buildings ranging from NZEB to net-zero and energy-plus level and including the use of on-site and nearby renewable energy systems. The comparison between calculated and real performance involves energy and indoor climate targets. A LCA analysis shall prove the reduction of embodied energy and carbon footprint possible when using wood construction industry design. The NERO project is coordinated by Kouvola Innovation Oy in Finland and runs from September 2017 to August 2020.




These projects show that the European Commission has taken action, through the Horizon 2020 programme, to address the experiences and challenges associated with the additional costs of NZEB buildings. An impressive number of EU projects is under way and developing market-ready solutions for the cost-effective planning and construction of nearly zero-energy buildings. While the three aforementioned projects under the 2015 call “Building design for new highly energy performing buildings” focus on innovation and specific technologies, the remaining four projects under the 2016 call “Cost reduction of new Nearly Zero-Energy buildings” aim to determine technology open solution sets for cost-effective NZEBs, to disseminate the findings to related stakeholders, and to increase market uptake of cost-effective NZEB. Various results from the first round of innovation projects are already available, and these will be complemented in the coming years by the outcomes of the second round of market uptake projects.



[1Buildings that meet current national building regulation minimum energy performance standards.